I dreamed of stone that flowed like silk. This was years ago, and the dream was strong. I didn’t know what the dream meant. Should I be a sculptor? No, that is not my calling at all.
Years later, at an art show, I saw my dream, framed and hanging on the wall. It was a place, not a thing, and the place was in Arizona. I knew I had to go there, but life intervened.
And then last week, on an assignment to teach grammar, I realized I was going to be within a few miles of Antelope Canyon in Page, Arizona. The canyon is on the Navajo Nation, tucked into the high desert, into the wall of a mesa. We traveled by jeep through deep, thick sand, and when we came to a stop, we got out and there was a red wall, with a dark shadow across it. The shadow was the entrance.
The instant you step into this space, everything you know about stone vanishes. This stone is many colors—violet and blue, pink and coral. The stone is worn down by wind and rain, starting millions of years ago. The carving continues to this day. When the Monsoon rains come, the water rises in a lake, then drops over the side and races down a dry river bed, tilts to one side, and curves into the slot canyon.
Hard rains cause the water to scour the walls with sand, rocks and branches the water picks up. Slow rains cause the rushing water to bring sand into the canyon, raising the floor. Our group stood three feet higher than the groups that had seen it in February.
There are openings in the canyon that let the sun through. At different times of day, there are different shadows, different colors, different washes of light.
The magic for me is that unless a Navaho, looking for his sheep, had seen the river vanish into the mesa and come out the other side, the canyon would still be hidden. The magic is also that a Navajo guide has to be with each group, because while the sun is shining over the canyon, rains happening miles away could already be sending water racing across the sand to fill the canyon. It’s happened before. Eleven people died not too long ago, before the warning system was put in place.
That’s a big metaphor, but just for now, I love the reality of it.
—Quinn McDonald believes in dreams and magic. She’s OK with the idea that other people don’t. She also believes in grammar when a lot of people don’t.